Improving dairy cattle welfare: promoting uptake of veterinary advice


Norman Hayward Fund



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Investigator(s):  Dr Kristen Reyher, Alison Bard

What was the aim of this research project?

The aim was to determine factors affecting dairy farmers engagement with advisory recommendations and to explore the effectiveness of an evidence-based communication method called Motivational Interviewing, to see if this methodology could improve cattle vet communication regarding herd health and welfare.

Why was undertaking this project important?

There is an ever-increasing amount of evidence-based information available to vets and farmers to help prevent and reduce diseases, but the information is not always being applied to its fullest on farms. It is important to understand whether vets are communicating in a way that effectively engages their clients with initiating change.

Motivational Interviewing has proven to be an effective communication methodology used in human healthcare, as it taps into a client’s own motivations for changing their behaviour. The project aimed to examine whether this methodology could be adopted by vets for better advisory conversations, by encouraging vets to focus on evoking and strengthening their farm clients’ own motivations for herd health change.

How did you do it?

Alison Bard completed several studies within the project. The first study involved recording role-plays between fifteen cattle vets and an actor portraying a farmer in a typical herd health consultation. She analysed the communication patterns that occurred and how these may have related to behaviour change outcomes.

Secondly, Alison observed advisory consultations on 14 dairy farms. The observations were used as a guide for 24 follow-up interviews with the farmers and vets involved to explore their perceptions of how veterinary communication can inspire behaviour change on farm.
In the final study, vets were recruited to undertake a brief MI training experience and consultations between them and their farm clients were analysed.

What did you find?

Initial role plays suggested that vets often used a ‘directive’ communication style, where they controlled the agenda of discussions with farmers and rarely asked about their own motivations and thoughts regarding change. Psychological theory suggested this approach was unlikely to inspire clients to engage in behaviour change.

Farmer and vet interviews suggested that trust in the vet was a key factor in the advisory process, and that vets seeking to positively engage farmers could benefit from a focus on farmer priorities, motivations and goals to frame and inform their advisory messages (a strategy in line with the MI methodology).

The analysis of communication between vets and farmers before and after brief MI training suggested it led to an increase in skills consistent with Motivational Interviewing. In response, farmers’ use of positive language when discussing change increased and they contributed more to the advisory conversations.

What implications/impact could these findings have?

The findings suggest that the MI methodology meets a skills gap in current veterinary communication and meets the desires of both vets and dairy farmers. Adoption of MI by vets could therefore enhance communication with farm clients and improve engagement with herd health management advice.

MI also offers the potential to enhance communication with clients in wider veterinary services and diverse animal health and welfare roles, where similar challenges in change communication are witnessed. Training of this kind could therefore support both professionals and students in a variety of disciplines.

What are the next steps (if any)?

The lasting positive effect of these trainings is unknown and further work is needed to understand the effects of brief MI training for veterinary participants. There may be opportunity for the training to be rolled out on a wider basis to both large and small animal vets in addition to other animal health and welfare advisory contexts.

Watch a presentation by the researchers on this project at the 2017 and 2018 AWF Discussion Forums

Read published papers and articles from this research project:


Further research as a result of this project: